Govt explains flu jab options

April 15, 2024

The Department of Health today said the findings of an annual survey on school outreach programmes will be referred to when procuring doses of seasonal influenza vaccine (SIV).


It made the remarks in view of recent reports on the use of nasal vaccines.


It said a total of over 1.8 million doses of SIV had been administered under various Government SIV programmes during 2023-24, representing a 20% increase when compared with the same period a year earlier.


The number of students receiving an SIV dose is significantly higher compared to the previous year.


As of April 7, about 533,700 doses of SIV had been administered to children aged between six months and under 18 years of age via the Government Vaccination Programme. This is a record high figure and represents an increase of about 36.8% compared to the previous year.


The overall vaccine coverage rate had reached 52.5%, an increase of 13% compared to the previous year.


The department stressed that overseas research and clinical experience generally show that doses of both injectable inactivated influenza vaccine (IIV) and nasal live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV) are safe, and that both offer comparable protection. It added that there is no scientific evidence to support prioritisation of nasal LAIV thus far.


It said this is according to the recommendations of the Centre for Health Protection’s Scientific Committee on Vaccine Preventable Diseases (SCVPD).


According to current arrangements under the SIV School Outreach (Free of Charge) Programme, kindergarten and childcare centres can choose to receive doses of injectable IIV or nasal LAIV, while primary schools and secondary schools can arrange for doses of injectable IIV only.


According to the findings of an annual survey, last conducted in 2023, of schools and doctors participating in the school outreach programmes, only 26% of kindergartens and childcare centres chose to use nasal LAIV. Sufficient doses have been provided to those kindergartens and childcare centres which chose nasal LAIV.


Kindergartens, childcare centres and schools can discuss the provision of injectable IIV or nasal LAIV with outreach doctors during Vaccination Subsidy Scheme School Outreach (Extra Charge Allowed) activities.


According to data from the survey, only 9% of primary schools and 7% of secondary schools chose to use LAIV nasal spray.


The department said that with reference to previous experience, schools and medical institutions participating in the outreach programme will consider parents’ choices, as well as the side effects and contraindications of influenza vaccines, when choosing vaccines.


It reiterated that IIV and LAIV are suited to different people, adding that there are more restrictions for receiving nasal spray vaccines, more points to note, and that their shelf-life is also shorter.


Nasal LAIV is not suitable for people who are pregnant, immuno-compromised, or have other contraindications – for example children aged two to four who have asthma or who have a history of wheezing in the preceding 12 months.


The department will continue to maintain close communication with stakeholders, including doctors and schools, to actively explore more options for SIV vaccination arrangements.


It will formulate implementation details for the 2024-25 season, including the best mode of operation and types of vaccine to be provided, with reference to results from the survey this year of schools and doctors participating in the school outreach programmes.


It will also consider the latest recommendations of the SCVPD and health authorities in other areas.

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